I'd had been quietly plotting this cake for the last few weeks - I wanted to make a variation of Lorraine Pascale's "I Can't Believe You Made That" cake but with an essential modification : it had to be big enough to feed a crowd at the party. Oddly enough, we were watching a baking programme about 2 weeks ago when somebody made a very similar cake - The Hubs commented that the cake looked absolutely gorgeous and impressive - so I got him to guess how many cigarillos you'd need for a cake, paused the show & made him count them (listen, if I'm going to make him a posh cake, he has to work a bit for it...).
After some considerable effort, the chocolate cigarillos were purchased (thank you Tricia Doyle uber-caterer & KelleyAnn, my work colleague) and I consulted with my baking guru - Lulu my 6 year old niece. Her reaction was instant - "oh that's very pretty Auntie Peefa - will you be able to make that yourself". She then proceeded to interrogate me about the cake making process, from the cake mixture to the filling to the icing and finally demanding to know how I would make the berries stick to the top of the cake "as you don't want them to fall off & get squished when you cut the cake". Quite right too. She also showed Sandie The Dog a photo - Sandie apparently approved, but told me that she couldn't have any as dogs are 'lergic to chocolate.
Initally I had tried to keep the cake making process a secret from The Hubs but given that we don't have multiple living spaces in Maison Babaduck, I had to tell him what I was up to. He was seriously impressed... as so he should be - I don't make birthday cakes for just anybody... I must say a quick thank you to Neville in my local Superquinn for giving me a cake box & board so I could transport it to the party venue safely (strapped into the back seat like a baby). Also to Donal in The Martello for organising a great party for us and providing gorgeous party food.
This recipe easily feeds 30 people - I used a 10 inch square cake tin and baked 2 batches of the cake mixture to create the two-layer cake (as I only had 1 tin!). I filled the centre with seedless raspberry preserves & vanilla creme patisserie, covered the entire cake in a generous layer of chocolate buttercream icing and I used about 120 (30 per side) chocolate cigarillos to decorate the sides of the cake. I then used some ribbon & pins from A. Rubanesque to pretty it up. Finally, the finest Irish strawberries, raspberries & blueberries went on top.
Birthday Extravaganza Cake
140g Creme Fraiche
140g Butter, as soft as possible
225g Soft Light Brown Sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract
180g Plain Flour
3tbsp Cocoa Powder
2tsp Baking Powder
Preheat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4. Grease your cake tin & line the base with baking paper.
Put all of your ingredients into a food mixture or large bowl & beat well until combined. Pour into the cake tin, smooth the top & bake for 30-35 minutes.
Check the cake with a skewer to make sure it comes out clean, remove from the oven & allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Repeat for the second layer.
Chocolate Buttercream Icing
250g Butter, as soft as possible
500g Icing Sugar
100g Dark Chocolate, melted & slightly cooled
Put the butter & icing sugar in a bowl & whisk until the mixture goes fluffy. Add the melted chocolate & whisk for another 2 minutes until everything is well combined. Cover until needed.
Assembling The Cake
Spread some icing on your cake board - this acts as a glue & stops the cake sliding around.
Place the bottom layer on the board & spread with the seedless raspberry preserves & creme patisserie (you can replace this with fresh cream if that's what you prefer.
Now it's time to cover the cake in the icing. Use a tablespoon to dollop it on the top of the cake, and a palette knife to spread it all over the top & sides. Take your time - it's worth the effort. It's also neater if you place sheets of greaseproof paper under the cake as any stray icing will land there & vanish when you remove the paper (a trick I picked up from watching Ina Garten on the tellybox).
Once the icing is smooth & the cake has been covered, it's time to add the chocolate cigarillos. Press them firmly into the icing to make them stick. Some will be too short & you're allowed to eat these (quality control purposes...).
You can then pretty up the cake by wrapping it in ribbon, and even adding a bow if you're feeling very artistic. Use pins to secure the ribbon (jam them at right angles into the cake & they'll stay secure).
Finally, it's time to top the cake with a mixture of fresh berries - I used raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Keep the cake in the fridge until you're ready to serve it - it allows the icing to firm up & keeps the berries fresh.
This is all we brought home!
This cake is a bit of a labour of love, but based on the reactions of our party guests last night, it was worth every drop of effort. Comments ranged from "there's NO WAY you made that" to "will you make one for me" and every plate was cleared. Seconds were requested and pieces were wrapped and brought home. That's always a good sign!